Someone reminded me today of some of my experiences as a kid growing up in a house with a respect for firearms. There’s no real political motivation to this posting (as with many of my others), just some insightful reminiscing and perhaps a few lessons to be learned.
As stated, my household was open to the discussion and teaching about and in regards to the existence and safe use of firearms. I knew where the ‘house gun’ was stored by the time I was 4 years old. I also knew it was not something to be touched, but that if I was curious, I could ask at any time to explore that curiosity under the appropriate supervision.
“Oh, but can you trust a 4 year old with such knowledge” you might suggest? Well, this calls to mind one such scenario at about that age – in fact it is the instance which allows me to recall that I knew of the ‘house gun’ by that age (and perhaps was even made aware of it before then, but cannot state as much as this is my first real recollection of it).
As is the case with most parents, from time to time we would have ‘sitters’ so my mom and dad could go out and do grown-up things by themselves. Generally it would be one of the girls from the neighborhood, but one time my parents decided to give a young boy up the street a chance at doing the job. He blew the chance quickly!
Knowing that my father had firearms, he suggested to us that he heard a strange noise outside and asked my brother and I to tell him where my dad kept the family ‘gun’.
My then 6 y.o. brother told him it was none of his business! Furthermore, upon my father coming home, he immediately informed my father of the sitter’s interest in knowing where the gun was located. (believe it or not, I tended to be the quiet/shy one at that age) Needless to say, that boy never sat for us again and my parents had a considerable talk with his parents about the incident.
An important point I often tell parents (back when I was doing my NRA safety certifications and in general discussions about the topic of gun safety and kids to this day) is the fact that we were also brought along and allowed to see guns shooting and even shoot them ourselves at a very early age as well. By the time I was about 8 my father had bought me and my brother both a Savage 220, 28 gauge shotgun that we could use and were taught extensively to behave safely around. We, again, were allowed access to it under appropriate supervision whenever we desired.
Not too long after, my dad bought me a Savage 219 in a .410 gauge as I was still a tad small for the 28. I quickly became quite efficient at shooting, going so far as to hit 48 out of 50 clay pigeons one afternoon shooting trap in spite of my brother and father’s attempts to make each one more challenging or otherwise ‘trick’ me into missing one by making them spin or fly awkwardly. (I recently patterned that gun – yes, I still have it – with similar shells only to discover it holds about a 6″ pattern at 25 yards making me realize just how much of a feat that was for a kid, especially in that many of those 48 weren’t simply hit but disintegrated into a dust cloud by a mere 2 3/4″ .410 shell that doesn’t carry a lot of #9 lead shot in it)
One of the reasons I was so adept at shooting was also another of my father’s ideas that I praise to this day. Thus the title of this piece. He bought us a BB gun and kept us well supplied with BBs for it. I remember it to this day, a Daisy ‘Woodstock’ (most likely a model 96 like the one pictured below).
I modified this picture slightly to reflect what my father had done to ours. The first thing he did upon getting it was to take it downstairs to his work bench to remove the front and rear sights. The goal being to get us used to shooting, but more specifically to build shooting instincts rather than a reliance on the mechanical sights themselves. This was an invaluable teaching tool for my shooting skills as it required me to learn to shoot based on where the BB actually went as opposed to where the sights were aligned.
I remember many an afternoon running around the side yard shooting at various things floating down the creek that ran by our property. Sticks, the occasional bug (my brother and I could eventually take bugs out in midair with little problem) – I remember in particular shooting at individual pieces of ‘duckweed’, small green plants resembling teeny tiny lily pads all of about 3mm across, with regularity.
We also had our fair share of mock battles, setting up our little green army men at about 10-15 yards and shooting it out with them until they were all knocked over. There was one set of army men we had in particular that were especially fun for this. A small set of revolutionary war soldiers that consisted of multiple parts put together to form the full soldier — removable guns, wigs, hats, two piece bodies and other various clothing and gear components. When you would shoot those they would often times fracture into pieces that you would have to collect and re-assemble before going at it again.
I know, kind of morbid shooting at little men but it’s what boys tend to do and we were well aware they were just plastic little targets. And as a result of having such targets, neither me or my brother ever had the desire to shoot at things we shouldn’t.
The familiarity and proximity to guns in a ‘supervised’ atmosphere of incessant habit re-enforcement also went a long way in teaching both respect and proper care and safety around guns. Being around dad shooting as a very young sprite was more than enough motivation to avoid touching those things that made those really loud ‘BOOMS‘!!! Being able to explore curiosities about these devices dispelled any desire to explore said curiosities without supervision. Being entrusted — with well laid out rules and corresponding ‘consequences’ for irresponsible behavior — with our own guns (and airguns as the case may be) helped foster that responsible behavior around guns. It was re-enforced to the point that a couple of interesting situations took place.
One such instance involved a group of neighborhood boys. Mind you, I was kind of a late bloomer – small and awkward and often times the subject of teasing due to a lesser ability to ‘defend’ myself proficiently. We were shooting with some neighborhood boys once when one of them kept resorting to what I intrinsically reacted to as ‘bad behavior’. Mainly, he had a very bad habit of not paying attention to where the end of his BB gun was pointed.
I commented on this a number of times, especially when the way it ended up being pointed was at my head. Finally after he again turned it to point at my head one more time I pushed the end of the barrel away from my face and told him in no uncertain terms (in essence), “knock it off already, I’m tired of you not listening when I say stop pointing your gun at people!”
As boys of that age (especially the idiotic ones) are prone to do, he came back with a smartass comment. “What are you griping about? The safety is on!” at which point he purposefully turned his body as to point the gun back in my face again.
My mind immediately took this not only as stupidity but a direct intent to be reckless. Something in my head switched gears. Before I knew it, I had wrenched the gun from the kid’s hands, tripped him by pushing him back over my own foot placed behind his so that he ended up falling flat on his ass. Then I pulled his gun to my shoulder and squeezed the trigger so hard as to ‘break‘ the plastic safety mechanism, shooting a single round right between his spread legs about 5″ below his private parts.
The group of boys stood mouths agape! It was very out-of-character for for me to suddenly lash out like that, not to mention surprising that someone as diminutive as myself could do it as effectively as I did. It frankly surprised me.
I threw the gun down onto his chest and said rather pointedly (something like) “There’s your damned safety for you! Now stop pointing your gun in people’s faces dumbass!“
Needless to say, he ran home to his mom both complaining that I almost shot him and that I broke the safety on his gun. When the situation was explained she had no room to argue in regards to my actions in that he was making a habit of (intentionally) behaving recklessly and then trying to justify that recklessness when called out on it. (and he never went shooting with any of us again – by our prohibition as much as his own disdain for me as a result of that event)
Another situation I still jest with my father about to this day. My dad loves to collect firearms and when I visit he often takes me down to show me his new acquisitions or various improvements he has done to guns I had already seen. Without exception he will pick a gun up off his own gun wrack (for which he has the only key to the door outside it), open the action and check that the gun is unloaded. He then hands the gun to me to look over at which point I immediately open the action and check that it is unloaded…. again! In spite of the fact MY OWN FATHER just did the exact same thing right in front of me!
Good habits start with common sense approaches. Good behavior becomes instinctual with repetition and persistent re-enforcement. I guess that’s my reason for writing this post.